Brady: Offense slowed by negative plays

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Brady: Offense slowed by negative plays

FOXBORO -- Tom Brady's first pass Sunday ricocheted off a helmet and was intercepted on a diving one-handed play by Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. It was an inauspicious start to what finished up as a forgettable afternoon for the quarterback.

Sure, it was the 34th consecutive game in which he threw for a score, the fourth-longest streak of all time. And, yeah, he also locked up the fourth spot on the NFL's all-time passing yardage list, surpassing Johnny Unitas.

But after finishing 28-for-46 for 316 yards, a touchdown and an interception, one look at the scoreboard -- a 20-18 win for the Cardinals -- was enough for Brady to know that he left points on the field.

Particularly unnerving for him were the "negative plays" -- penalties, sacks, tackles behind the line of scrimmage -- that stalled New England's offense.

"Offensively, when you dont play well and you dont play consistently, if youre not going to get a big play, then you have to drive the ball," Brady said, "and you cant drive the ball if you're always two steps forward, one step back. Thats the way it felt today. Wed get the drive going and then there would be a negative play and wed be forced to try to make a miraculous play to get back on track. It just wasnt a very good day in that sense."

Through three quarters, Brady was 14-for-25 for 150 yards and a pick. He had also been sacked three times. Without Aaron Hernandez, who left in the first quarter with an ankle injury, the game plan was changing, and Brady looked off.

It wasn't until New England's penultimate drive in the fourth quarter -- its only touchdown drive of the day -- that Brady appeared to be in rhythm. With just over five minutes remaining in the game, he completed five consecutive passes in a no-huddle attack that quickly moved the Patriots from their own 18 yard line all the way to Arizona's 28.

They were fast, they were efficient. And Tom Brady looked like Tom Brady. He was on time with his throws and he fit passes in to tight windows to Rob Gronkowski, who before that drive had just one catch for nine yards.

Brady capped the series with a five-yard touchdown strike to Gronkowski, finishing the drive 8-for-10 for 82 yards.

Wes Welker noticed the offense began to click when it went into hurry-up mode.

"We work on that a lot," Welker said. "We practice it and it was effective for us, especially late in the game. It was crunch time and we were able to make some plays and get down the field and score. We just have to finish a lot of those drives on touchdowns instead of field goals."

Of course, one more field goal would have won the game. But Brady explained that if he and the offense had played more efficiently leading up to Stephen Gostkowski's missed game-winning attempt, a win would have been in hand long before that wayward boot.

"Its a team game and certainly we shouldnt have been leaving it up to that particular situation . . . We just came up short," Brady said. "We have opportunities to make plays and were just not making them. Just too inconsistent throughout the day to really put enough points on the board."

When it comes to Gronkowski's restructured deal, 15 is the magic number

When it comes to Gronkowski's restructured deal, 15 is the magic number

Rob Gronkowski's contract looked like one of the NFL's best bargains not too long ago. Now, after agreeing to a contract restructure, he could be paid as the top tight end in the league if he stays healthy.

Granted, it's a gargantuan "if."

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Gronkowski's restructured deal will bump his salary for this upcoming season from $5.25 million to $10.75 million should he hit certain statistical thresholds or be named an All-Pro.

Per Schefter, Gronkowski earns $10.75 million if he plays 90 percent of the offensive snaps (which he's done once before in his career), or makes 80 catches (which he's done twice), or gains 1,200 yards receiving (once), or is named an All-Pro (three times). 

Those seem like lofty goals for the 28-year-old who's entering his eighth year as a pro. But history shows that if he stays on the field for a full season or thereabouts -- 15 games to be specific -- he'll get to where he wants to be. 

If you take out his rookie year, before he had established himself as a go-to option in the Patriots offense, Gronkowski has played in three seasons during which he's reached at least 15 games. In each of those three seasons, he's been named an All-Pro. In 2011, he hit all three statistical markers. In 2014, he hit one. In 2015, he hit none. 

The lesson? When Gronkowski stays relatively healthy throughout a given season, even if he doesn't reach the astronomical statistical heights he reached in his second year, there's a very good chance he's considered the best tight end in the NFL. 

And if that's the case again in 2017, he'll be paid like the best tight end in the NFL.

To hit the second tier of his restructured deal -- which would pay him $8.75 million, per Schefter -- Gronkowski needs to play 80 percent of the offensive snaps (which he's done twice), or make 70 catches (three times), or gain 1,000 receiving yards (three times), or catch 12 touchdowns (twice). 

To hit the third tier of his new deal and get $6.75 million, Gronkowski needs to play 70 percent of the snaps (which he's done four times), or make 60 catches (three times), or gain 800 receiving yards (three times), or score 10 touchdowns (five times). 

According to Spotrac, Jimmy Graham of the Seahawks is currently scheduled to be the tight end position's top earner next season at $10 million. Odds are that if Gronkowski avoids disaster and stays on the field, he'll eclipse that.

But the odds of him staying on the field are what they are: He's played in 15 games in four of seven pro seasons. 

The restructured deal seems to be the ultimate incentive for Gronkowski to get healthy and stay that way following last year's season-ending back surgery. If he can, the Patriots will reap the benefits of having the game's most dynamic offensive weapon on the field, and the player will be paid a far cry from what he was scheduled to make when the week began.

Report: Patriots, Gronkowski restructure contract for 2017 season

Report: Patriots, Gronkowski restructure contract for 2017 season

The Patriots and Rob Gronkowski have restructured the tight end’s contract for the coming season, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. 

The reworked deal can bump Gronkowski’s salary for the 2017 season from $5.25 million to $10.75 million, according to Schefter. 

Gronkowski was limited by injury to just eight games last season. He had 25 receptions for 540 yards and three touchdowns, all of which were career lows. 

The 28-year-old is entering his eighth NFL season since being selected by the Pats in the second round of the 2010 draft. He has played played in at least 15 regular-season games in four of his first seven season, though he’s twice played fewer than 10.